The Agency of Angels
June 12, 2016 version
"Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." (Prov 30:5-6 NIV) While some people have made up things about angels, we need to be careful that our speculations and godly reasoning, even if correct, should be thought of as scripture.
In some respects this study might leave you less than satisfied, because for many, questions the Biblical answer is "perhaps", "maybe", or "we don't know." Many things in the Bible talk about down to earth, but this study partially lifts the veil so that we can take a peek at what things are like in heaven. So let's see what the Bible says about angels, how they interact with God, how they interact with each other, including fallen angels, and how they interact with Christ. Let's also us our godly wisdom to reason about certain things, but without calling our own reasonings God's word.
Angels are servants of God, but Rev 12:4-9 suggests that when Satan fell, about one-third of the angels fell with him. These angels became demons. So if someone asks you if there is extra-terrestrial life, not of this world, besides God. The answer is "yes", angels and demons. But is there more than one type of angel? Do some people turn into angels, like in the Jimmy Stewart movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? How many angels are there? Why did God create angels in the first place? The Bible does not completely answer to the last two questions, but by studying God's word, perhaps we can see a glimpse of part of the answer. But in order to learn more about angels, we have to start with God.
God doesn't need us to preach the gospel. He could just send angels, or speak to everyone directly through dreams and visions. Yet, for some reason, even though angels might do a more correct job, God primarily uses people to share the gospel. Our hearts are to be tablets to the world of God's message (2 Cor 3:2-3), but we are chipped and patched up tablets. With unveiled faces we are to reflect the Lords' glory (2 Cor 3:18), but we are tarnished mirrors. Why God chooses to show the world the most important message the world can see with tarnished mirrors and chipped tablets, I don't know, but that is what God chooses to do. Is God restricted to only doing things through people today? - certainly not. People in countries closed to humanly spreading the gospel through dreams.
God doesn't need us to accomplish His ends. Even if every single Christian were to decide not to do God's will anymore, God's decrees and purposes would still be fulfilled. Yet of all the various means God could have used to achieve His ends, He seems to primarily choose us. Why? - the Bible doesn't say. But we can say that though using humans to do His will might not be the most straightforward way, but that is what God wanted to do.
Why did God make us? Scripture says that we were made for God's glory (Isaiah 43:7) and to love and obey God (John 14:15,21). God is glorified when, we of our own choosing, decide to express our love to God by doing His will.
Why Did God Make Angels?
Though Scripture might not say all the reasons God made angels, but we can see that they were made for God's glory too. Angels were created, in their inmost being, to obey God (Ps 103:20a), praise God (Psalm 148:2; 103:20b-21) and worship the Father (Revelation 5:13) and Jesus (Heb 1:6; Rev 5:12-14).
The word "angel" in both Hebrew and Greek means messenger. When Jesus had John write to the seven churches in Revelation, it is ambiguous whether John was writing to the angels of the churches, or the messengers of the churches.
Does God need angels? No, God does not need anything. God did not need them to create, as God created the angels. Creation was by God the Father, all things were created through Jesus Christ (Col 1:16), and the Spirit was there at creation hovering over the abyss (Gen 1:2b). God could do everything directly, through His own arm (1 Ki 8:42; 2 Chr 6:32). And yet, for some reason, God chooses to do many things through the agency of angels. Perhaps one function of angels is as intermediaries. If everything sinful is removed from God's presence, an angel might be sent to deal with sinful people out of God's mercy. The angels were not all perfect, as God charged some angels with error (Job 4:18), some angels fell (2 Peter 2:4; Matthew 25:41).
Angels have a will, as evidenced by some angels choosing to fall away. But apparently God is glorified when angels, of their own will, worship God. However, their free will might have fundamental differences from our free will. Do angels have faith? We have faith of the glories of heaven, faith in life after death, but angels do not have that. They have certain knowledge.
Did God Need Us to Love?
If the One True God had no distinct plurality, like in Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Oneness Pentecostalism, there would have been a time at the beginning when God had no one to love. So God would not be a God of love until He created something; at least according to false theology. However, God is a Trinity, and the Father, Son, and Spirit loved each other from all eternity; so God was a God of love from all eternity past. He did not need either angels or humans to have love. Nonetheless, God desired to create both angels and humans that loved Him. But that being said, there are a number of key differences between people and angels.
What is True of Us but not of Angels
We are made in the image of God, both men and women (Gen 1:26-27). Scripture never said that angels are made in God's image.
Christ died for us; Hebrews 2:16 specifically says that it was not the angels Christ helped.
Scripture says it is Christ who judge us (Mt 21:32; Mk 8:38; 2 Cor 5:10), not angels. Instead we will judge angels (1 Cor 6:3). This does not mean we will judge which angels are fallen or not. But the Bible is silent and so leaves open the possibility of varying punishments for fallen angels, or varying rewards for the good angels. Also, judges don't just pronounce punishments and rewards, but they can direct who goes where and does what.
Christ on earth was made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9).
Angels are compared to winds and flames of fire (Ps 104:4; Heb 1:7). Yet in Revelation 7:1 there will be four angels who will hold back the winds so that no wind will blow on the land or the sea for a while.
Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve us (Heb 1:14). Angels have their places of authority, but some angels fell and left theirs (Jude 6). Angels long to look into our salvation through faith (1 Peter 1:12b), and learn through the church (Eph 3:10).
"The angel of the Lord camps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." Psalm 34:7 (NIV) Angels rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10).
Heavenly angels do not marry. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:34-36, and we can marry now, though we will be like them in heaven.
Interactions Among Angels
From scripture we only know two angels by name: Michael and Gabriel.
A demon, the prince of Persia, resisted the angel Gabriel and detained him from coming to Daniel for 21 days in Dan 10:13. But then "one of the chief princes" Michael came to help Gabriel. During the end times Michael the "great prince who protects your people, will arise." (Dan 12:1a). It is Michael and his angels in Rev 12:3-9 who fought and defeated the dragon and his angels. It is the archangel Michael who contended with the devil about the body of Moses in Jude 9. Every mention of Michael is in the context of fighting.
Gabriel was the messenger to Daniel in Dan 8:16; 9:21, and to Mary in Lk 1:11-38. Every mention of Gabriel is in the context of being a messenger.
The song "The Eyes of Texas" mentions Gabriel blowing his horn (trumpet) at the end, but the book of Revelation does not give the names of any angels that blow trumpets.
Besides these Michael and Gabriel, the Catholic Church claimed there are archangels named Raphael and Uriel. Raphael is in the apocryphal book of Tobit. Uriel was prominent in Jewish and in New Age mysticism. But except for Michael and Gabriel, no names of angels are in the scripture that Jesus and the apostles recognized.
Types of Angels
All angels (except the fallen ones) are servants of God (Mt 25:31; Mk 12:25; Lk 9:26; Jn 1:51; Heb 1:6-7; Jude 9; Rev 9:13; 10:1,7,15). Of course, on the other hand, some have said that even Satan and demons are unwilling servants of the Most High God, as they cannot do what God does not allow, and from Romans 8:28, all things, even the evil things they do, work together for the good of those who love God.
Angels were created before the earth. Job 38:7. Did God create any angels after the time? - scripture does not say. Are all angels the same? Scripture teaches there are different kinds of angels.
Distinct from regular angels are Cherubs (Cherubim) and Seraphs (Seraphim). Some think cherubim and seraphim are the same because the descriptions are so similar. Others think they are different because the names are different. Seraphim are in Isa 6:1-7, cherubim are in Ezek 1:4-25, 10, and the four living creatures are in Rev 4:6-9, 5:8, 14:3
People (or at least children) have individual angels (Mt 18:10). When Rhoda saw Peter delivered, Rhoda thought she was seeing Peter's angel in Acts 12:15.
Heavenly angels can physically kill (Ps 78:49; Num 22:33). Ps 78:49 mentions a band of destroying angels.
Angels make key announcements and do key things. Rev 8:2,18:1-3,21,19:17,21:9; Luke1:11-38
During the rapture angels will gather God's elect (Mt 24:31, Mk 13:27).
Beware of Devotion to Angels
Col 2:18 says we should beware of those who worship angels. 2 Cor 11:14 says that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Gal 1:18 says that even if you heard a different gospel from an angel of heaven (or at least appearing to be an angel from heaven), that one preaching the false gospel is accursed. 1 John 4:1-4 says we are not to believe every spirit, for there are many false spirits out there too. Any spirit that does not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God.
But we should be very careful not to slander celestial beings, whether they be angels or even fallen angels. Jude 8-10 warns us against this, saying that even when Michael was contending with Satan about the body of Moses, Michael did not say any curse against Satan, but only "The Lord rebuke you."
Jesus and Angels
Angels guarded Jesus (Luke 4:10; Mk 4:6; Ps 91:11,12). After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, angels came and ministered to Him (Mt 4:11; Mk 1:13).
Appearance of God in the Old Testament are called theophanies. While these are mysterious, many of them might have been appearances of Christ prior to His incarnation at Bethlehem. In some of these could Christ have appeared as an angel?
Early Christians prior to Nicea taught that Christ appeared as an angel. They are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Letter of Hymenaeus, Novatian, and, after Nicea, Hilary of Poitiers. On the other hand, Athanasius was clear that Jesus never appeared as an angel.
Some thought Jesus appeared as an angel because in Exodus 23:20-22 God says He is sending an angel ahead of them. But they must be careful not to rebel against the angel, "since my Name is in him."1 Cor 10:3-4 says that the rock that accompanied the Israelites was Christ.
We should not fall at the feet of an angel in worship (Rev 22:8). Yet in Josh 5:11-15 Joshua met the commander of the Lord's army. Joshua fell facedown in reverence before him, and the "angel" told Joshua to take off his sandals, because the place he was sanding on was holy ground.
One article, published by a student a Trinity Evangelical Theological Seminary, mentions Christ appearing as an angel was a Biblical truth not often taught today. However, according a Dallas Theological Seminary professor, most theologians do not think that Christ appeared as an angel. On the other hand, if God can appear as a burning bush, and God can appear as three men, God is able to appear as anything He wishes. For that matter, an angel can appear as a man, as Gabriel did in Dan 9:21.
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Two angels were disguised as men in Genesis 19:1-8. Three "men" appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18:1-3, though Abraham knew at once it was the Lord. One reason we should obey God's command to practice hospitality is that Heb 13:2 says that sometimes we might be entertaining angels unawares. In other words God might send a stranger, a beggar, or someone who needs help to us who is really an angel in disguise. This is both a test, and a way for us to express our love and obedience to God.
What One Angel Can Do
When David counted the fighting men in 2 Sam 2:13-17, God sent one angel to kill 70,000 Israelites in three days time. David saw the angel who was killing the people in 2 Samuel 24:17.
After the Assyrian army deported many nations, including Samaria, they surrounded Israel. Hezekiah, Isaiah, and others prayed and God sent out an angel. That angel, in one night put to death 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in 2 Kings 19:35 and Isaiah 37:36-37. The Bible does not say how they died, the famous Greek historian records something similar. He says that an army of rats plagued the Assyrian camp. The rats, of course would bring bubonic plague as well as eat the bowstrings.
An angel will bind Satan for 1,000 years. (Rev 20:1-3). It says it is just one solitary angel, with a key to the abyss and a great chain. I wonder what kind of substance that chain is made out of. I wonder what that angel is like, or is made of. Though Satan might be surrounded by many demons, I think that is one angel a demon would not want to mess with!
How Many Angels Are There?
Revelation 5:11 shows myriads upon myriads, or ten thousand upon ten thousand angels worshipping God together. The Bible compares angels to stars in the sky in Job 38:7 and Rev 12:3. When Jesus was being arrested, and Peter tried to defend Jesus with his sword, it was almost comical. Jesus said He could ask and the Father would send twelve legions of angels. A Roman legion was about 4,500 to 6,000 soldiers. At its very largest, the Roman army was only 25 to 30 legions. Now imagine one angel, with the power to kill 200,000 people in one night, times twelve legions, or around 60,000 angels.
But as great as this power would be, there is one thing even greater: Jesus' forbearance. Jesus knew that power was at His complete disposal, at once, to show the Pharisees and Romans how pitiful their proud authority was versus His. Yet Jesus, through all of His suffering, chose not once to use that power, but to die, a horribly painful and shameful death. Praise God that Jesus was more powerful than the power at His disposal, in that though at any moment He could have said "this is too much, I can't take it anymore, get me out." Jesus never did. Jesus was not just faithful, but He continued to be faithful.
However, Jesus will return in power. 2 Thess 1:7 says that when Jesus returns, He will come with His powerful angels. Jude 14 also mentions this, and Rev 19:11-16 discusses this more in detail. You know, when a railroad train is barreling down the track, you would rather be riding on the train than standing on the track. The train is not going to change; your only choice is where you want to be with respect to the train. Likewise, you want to be with Jesus, not the ones rebelling against Him.
To conclude, we should not be devoted to, praise, or worship angels, but we praise God for creating them.
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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.